“Eitthvað Sætt” Compilation

OK, some of this Icelandic stuff from the 1970s is weird. I mean really, really weird. My guess is that 1975 was musically kind of strange here in the US as well, especially on the AM dial, which is where it sounds like most of the stuff on Eitthvað Sætt might have been played (had it been played in the US…). And in fact given the significant number of covers found on its dozen tracks, it’s actually quite likely that at least the originals of some of these were in fact in heavy rotation in the States.

Google Translate is an amazing tool. Sure it comes up with some super odd stuff sometimes, but usually you can get the gist of what something is about after a quick copy-and-paste. Well, I wanted to see what the hell Eitthvað Sætt was about so I endeavored to type the entire reverse jacket text into it to see what would happen. Most of it was pretty clear, like the album title translating into “Something Sweet”. But the part about one of the singers having not been heard in Iceland since their cousin swallowed his false teeth… not sure what that’s all about. Or if I even want to know.

TANGENT ALERT!!! Holy crap. Is this a cover of “Return to Sender” I’m hearing while I write this? Seriously? WTF?

Sorry about that but my mind just got blown, though this shouldn’t have come as a surprise when you consider the opening song is a cover of “Sixteen Candles.” I feel like I’m at my parent’s prom or something. Now, the song title translations of these covers don’t exactly match up with their English names. For example, Google Translate tells me that Haukar’s cover of “Return to Sender” is called “Three Tons of Sand,” and “Sixteen Candles” is “Sixteen Tyres”. Could be goofy quirks with Google, or it could be that these “covers” have different lyrics being sung in Icelandic, though a song sung in a romantic style about sixteen tires would be beyond strange. The one song title in English on the reverse, “Let’s Start Again,” is actually an original! Go figure.

So we’ve got 12 songs on Eitthvað Sætt contributed by seven different artists, including one by Hljómar, members of which seem to be involved in every single song recorded in Iceland in the 1970s until punk broke. As near as I can tell, based solely on the writing credits, eight of the tracks are covers, so this is sort of cover record of 1960s/early 1970s pop, though the styles are varied.

Then there’s the cover. Which is definitive proof that acid made it to Iceland by 1975.

The preponderance of recognizable covers certainly defines Eitthvað Sætt. You find yourself wondering if you’re going to recognize the next track, and not always sure immediately if you do or not.

I’ll leave you with the Google translation of the last sentence on the jacket reverse:

Otherwise, the album speaks for themselves, but it’s safe to say that this package contains unusually multivariate and good chocolate.

Mmmm…. chocolate….

Þokkabót – “Bætiflákar”

Man, I’m at a bit of a loss here.

I can’t find much about the Icelandic folk/psych band online, other than that it looks like they put out four albums between 1974 and 1978, including this example Bætiflákar in 1975. This was another of my random eBay pickups from the other day and I got it for a good price, so I’m not too bothered by its obscurity. One thing I did find online though was a news story from May of this year that includes a clip of the band playing together again in studio! And you know what? They still sound the same almost 40 years later.

To me these sound like drinking songs, the kind of thing you’d hear a few dudes playing if you walked into some random pub in some anonymous small European village on at dark and probably foggy night when you’ve been driving too long, are totally lost, and just want a hot bowl of something and a beer. And the next thing you know you’re five beers deep telling your traveling companion how amazing these guys are. Not rowdy Irish drinking songs that have the whole tavern swaying back and forth spilling beers all over each other and fighting. More like songs for people who are drinking quietly and enjoying it.

Now let’s be clear – I’m not saying that Þokkabót are amazing. Because I’m exactly no beers deep into my evening, and to my stone-cold-sober ears they’re fine, but nothing particularly exciting. That’s not to say I’m not tempted to try out my theory because I have beers in the fridge, but it’s a school night and there are other records around here that sound just fine without an alcohol induced haze.

Bætiflákar has pianos and guitars and flutes and I think a goddamn xylophone (holy hell, that is a xylophone!). The songs are in Icelandic, though there are a couple of Donovan covers here too, but it’s not like I’m an expert on him or anything. I didn’t grow up in the age of folk or psych, so I have a hard time appreciating it fully most of the time. The musicians are generally quite talented, as are the gang from Þokkabót, but other than the xylophone solo (yes, there is one “Dagur,” which automatically makes it the best song on the record by default) I didn’t find myself getting too excited. Only thirsty.

Dread Zeppelin – “Un-Led-Ed”

Dread Zeppelin is:

1. A reggae band,
2. Fronted by a 300-pound Elvis impersonator
3. That does Led Zeppelin covers

That’s right. Reggae style Led Zep covers sung by an Elvis impersonator. And it’s every bit as freaking awesome as you would imagine it to be.

I actually bought Un-Led-Ed on CD when it first came out in 1990, though I couldn’t tell you why. I mean, I was a big Led Zeppelin fan to be sure – they were clearly my favorite band for a very long time. But why I’d have been intrigued by Elvis reggae covers of their stuff… I have no idea. But I bought it, and I actually liked it a lot. In fact I only just got rid of the CD within the last few years, but not before ripping the whole thing to iTunes. So if I already have the music, why did I buy it on vinyl today? I don’t know… it just struck my fancy, I guess. Ten dollars for a still sealed original release on gold vinyl seemed too good to pass up, and the second I saw it I knew I had to blog about it. It’s that good.

Let’s be clear right up front – I realize that this album should be absolutely terrible. But it’s not. In fact it’s great. And I don’t mean great in some ironic hipster kind of it’s-so-bad-it’s-brilliant kind of way. Seriously. These guys are good musicians, the Elvis guy sounds like Elvis, and even though they get a little funny in a few places, it all holds together exceedingly well. Of the album’s 10 tracks, eight are from either Led Zeppelin I or Led Zeppelin II, with the play list rounded out by “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin III) and “Black Dog” (Led Zeppelin IV). So if you’re a fan of early Zep, this is right in your wheelhouse.

The heavy bass of early Zep is perfect for tweaking to a reggae style with it’s emphasis on the rhythm section. A number of the tracks are dubbed up a bit as well, adding echo and reverb to both the instruments and vocals. Throw in some horns, most notably on “Whole Lotta Love,” and you’ve got songs that are still quite recognizable to fans of the originals, but with their own unique flavor.

The album also allegedly had some odd controversy when the Presley estate objected to Tortelvis’ photo (yes, the singer goes by the name “Tortelvis”) on both the front and back jackets, so there are a number of different versions of the cover. Mine has Tortevlis on the front with his Elvis hairdo (not the reggae dreads they put on him in later covers), but has his image whited-out on the reverse. I don’t plan on trying to put together some kind of cover collection or anything, but it’s still interesting.

Tortelvis is a surprisingly good singer, as is evidenced by his intro to “I Can’t Quit You Babe” and his entire performance on “Black Dog” and “Heartbreaker,” unquestionably the two best songs on Un-Led-Ed. Both “Black Dog” and “Heartbreaker” blend Elvis songs in with their Zep counterparts, specifically “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel”. Ed Zeppelin provides the reggae style rasta backing vocals that add to the vibe, sometimes in support of Tortelvis and at others moving to the forefront. The guitar work is also excellent – it doesn’t try to be just like Jimmy Paige, which would be suicidal, but instead stays within the songs infused with a mixture of reggae and rock styles. The only place where the whole thing falls short is “Immigrant Song,” which includes vocals in a few parts that sound like they’re sung by The Chipmunks, which is really lame.

The guys from Dread Zeppelin did a great job on this album, all the way down to including a brief backwards masked message between “Immigrant Song” and “Moby Dick”. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who recorded copies of Zeppelin songs on tape, took the tape apart to reverse the reels, then played it backwards to hear the mythical backwards messages on Led Zeppelin IV (and I must admit, it was chilling the first time I heard them). Un-Led-Ed is a lot of fun, and some really good music to boot. If you’re a Zep fan who doesn’t take the Hammer of the Gods too seriously, check them out.

Geimsteinn – “Geimtré”

Rúnar Júlíusson played with the previously profiled Gunnar Þórðarson in Icelandic powerhouses Hljómar and Trúbrot in the 1960s and into the 1970s, and like Þórðarson his career didn’t come to a sudden end with the disbanding of Trúbrot. However, whereas Þórðarson went in a sort of folk-rock direction with songs in English to appeal to a wider market, Júlíusson formed a new band called Geimsteinn and took things in a more prog rock direction and kept the vocals in Icelandic.

Geimtré was Geimsteinn’s second album, and as near as I can tell it was released in 1977. I’m basing this solely on the ’77 that appears inside one of the tree trunks on this trippy Alice-in-Acidland-esque cover painting, since there isn’t a single copyright date to be found anywhere else on the jacket or labels. I believe this was released on the band’s own imprint that was founded after Júlíusson and Þórðarson parted ways due to the poor financial showing of Þórðarson’s debut that left the singer feeling shortchanged.

Much like the cover art, there seems to be quite a bit going on musically as well. Lots of instruments competing for space, though everyone is moving in the same direction so it holds together. Maria Baldursdottir sort of plays a Stevie Nicks role here with the sound of her voice, which gives the songs some extra flavor and is, at least to me, an important element that differentiates Geimsteinn from some of their contemporaries. I guess if I have a favorite it’s probably “Viltu Skyrhræring,” though this whole record sort of blends into the background so I’d probably need to sit down and just really listen to it again to be sure. Júlíusson obviously surrounded himself with talented musicians, and it shows on Geimtré.

Gunnar Þórðarson – “Gunnar Þórðarson”

Gunnar Þórðarson had a distinguished place in Icelandic music prior to releasing his self-titled solo album in 1975. Prior to that he’d performed in two of the country’s biggest bands, Hljómar and Trúbrot, both of which gained some notoriety outside their homeland, with Hljómar even getting a track onto the Nuggets II box set featuring mid to late 1960s rock and psych from countries other than the US.

Gunnar Þórðarson features nine tracks, all sung in English and of radio-friendly lengths, with all but one clocking in at less than four minutes. The style varies a little over the course of the album, opening with the very folky “Manitoba,” the story of an early group of Icelanders who got on a boat and went to Canada, and follows this with a light funk track called, fittingly enough, “Funky Lady”. From there most of the album falls into a fairly consistent light folk-pop sound, with song titles like “When Summer Comes Along,” “Rainbow,” and “Magic Moments” sounding like you’d expect them to based on the names. There’s a bit of Beach Boys style harmonizing and poppiness here as well, with just a hint of psych. Just looking at the cover probably tells you everything you need to know about this record – it’s got that perfect 1970s picture that just screams folk-rock.

Þórðarson has a very good voice, and as near as I can tell from the credits (remember kids, I don’t speak Icelandic) I think he played most of the instruments on this record as well, with the exceptions of the drums and violin. The guitar work is very good, there’s some nice funky bass parts, and of course some piano. A well made and clean sounding album. While it’s not the type of thing that will make it into the regular rotation (though I did catch myself singing along to “Flyin’ on the Wings” after only one listen…), it’s pleasant enough to put on with its upbeat sound and clean vocals.